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Right to Information

The right to information is a fundamental right flowing from
freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article-
19(a) of the constitution. The Parliament has passed the Right
to Information Act-2005. The failure in improving the rural
scenario is attributed less to the formulation of appropriate
policies, and more to their implementation. The problem lien
in ignorance on the part of people about the details of the
programmes and prevalence of wide-spread corruption during
their execution. It is in these areas that the tool of right to
information act’ can make a pathbreaking impact.

The instrument of right to information can be used to get hold of the official records.
Right to information is a basic transparency in their implementation,
democratic right existing in almost all thereby facilitating the process of people’s
functional democracies, through mostly at participation in both policy formulation and
conceptual level and less so in practice. The implementation. Let us discuss how.
concept has caught the limelight because of It is pertinent to point out here that the
its inclusion as an aspect of good government statistics on the achievements
governance popularized by the World Bank. of the rural development programmes look
The highest judiciary in many judgments quite satisfactory but things are different on
has ruled that the right to information is a the ground. The instrument of right to
fundamental right flowing from freedom of information can be used to get hold of the
speech and expression guaranteed under official records and then catch the
Article-19 (a) of the Constitution. The discrepancy by comparing them with
Parliament has passed the Right to ground realities.
Information Act-2005 in its budget session
to give effect to the concept. (a) RTI and Public Distribution System.
Rural development is probably the
biggest challenge before the planners and Hunger, malnutrition and occasional
policy makers of India. Despite launching cases of starvation deaths in rural areas are
numerous schemes and programmes, and causes of grave concern to any sensible
pumping corners of rupees in RD, the individual. In order to ensure food security
overall picture of rural India continues to be and to maintain the appropriate nutritional
grim. Today, rural India is marked by high level among the populace, the Government
incidence of poverty and illiteracy, has put in place the Public distribution
widespread disease, considerable System (PDS) which is supposed to make
unemployment, prevalent malnutrition available the monthly rations to the people
among children, women and masses at below poverty line (BPL) at subsidized
large, existence of miserable rural rate. As much as 26,000 crores of rupees
infrastructure like roads, electricity, primary are spent per year by way of food subsidy
health, drinking water, etc. lack of irrigation in the process. However, due to the
facilities and many other socio-political existence of unholy nexus between the
problems. The failure in improving the rural licensees of the fair price shops (FPS) and
scenario is attributed less to the formulation the officers of food supply department,
of appropriate policies, and more to their substantial portion of this money is
implementation. The problem lies in siphoned off through black marketing; as a
ignorance on the part of people about the result the whole PDS system is in shambles.
details of the programmes and prevalence of But, the fact that the use of RTI can change
wide-spread corruption during this the whole PDS system was approved by the
execution. It is in these areas that the tool of people of Sunder Nagri area of Delhi. The
‘right to information act’ can make path case study as follows :-
breaking impact. The use of right to With the active help of Parivartan-a
information can spread awareness among citizens’ initiative on RTI in Delhi, the
the masses about various ingredients of people of Sunder Nagri area of Delhi got
developmental and welfare schemes and hold of the records of the FPSs by making
bring about openness and wide use of the Delhi RTI Act. While the
records were cross-verified by way of mentioned rule.
asking the ration card holders in that area, 5. What action can be taken against
numerous discrepancies were found these officials for violating the
between reality and what the records had to above rules and for causing mental
show. Following the discrepancies, agony to the public? By when this
complaints were made near the Food and action would be taken?
Supply Officer demanding the cancellation 6. By when will you act on my
of the licenses of the erring FPSs. The complaints made?
authorities however preferred non-action.
The people then filed another set of Under the Delhi RTI Act, the
application, this time under RTI Act, near authorities are duty bound to furnish
the same authorities seeking the information information within thirty days after the
regarding the progress made on the receipt of the application; if they fail in
application seeking action against the errantadhering to the time limit, then their salary
FPSs. As a result, the authorities promptly would be deducted. Since it was difficult to
woke up to the act. It may be pertinent to answer the above questions, the authorities
describe the nature of questions asked under preferred to answer the above questions, the
RTI act seeking information non the authorities preferred redressing the
progress made on the previous application : grievances of the person(s) and requesting
the withdrawal of such applications. This
Please provide the following whole movement of Parivartan was borne
information with respect to the same : fruit and the Delhi Government has
accepted the following suggestions in the
1. Please provide the daily progress PDS.
made on my application.
2. Please give the names and 1. The Govt. has agreed to throw open
designations of the officials with the records of all shops in Delhi for
whom my application was lying public inspection every Saturday.
during this period. Please intimate The people, without paying any fee
the periods when it was lying with and without giving any prior
which officer and what was the intimation, can go to the nearest
action taken by the official during Good Office and inspect the
that period. records.
3. According to your rules of citizens’ 2. If any discrepancy were found in the
charter or any other order, in how records during public inspection, the
many days should such a matter be shop would be placed under
dealt with or resolved. Please suspension immediately on the spot
provide a copy of these rules. and criminal proceedings will be
4. The above officials have not initiated subsequently.
adhered to the time limit mentioned
in these rules and hence guilty of Now the FPSs are seen always open
misconduct under their conduct in the area discussed. The authorities are
rules. Please give a copy of their ensuring that the ration is arriving near the
conduct rule, which they have FPSs on the 1st of the month. This is how
violated by violating the above systematic changes could be brought about
in the complex system like PDS by the the fraud. These can also be discussed in
people through the use of RTI Act. This is the public platform like “jan sunwai”
in fact a landmark achievement for the where the people are the participating and
people. If similar exercises are carried out jury both. Discussion in such forums takes
in all rural areas of the country, the place in an open environment and the
starvation deaths and widespread versions of the beneficiaries are testified in
malnutrition would be things of the past. a transparent manner. Even after these
exercises, if action is not taken against the
(b) RTI and the Poverty Alleviation and guilty persons, then another application
Employment Generation Schemes. may be filed, this time under the RTI Act,
similar to the ones done in PDS system
Two national programmes, specifically seeking information on the progress of the
aiming at ensuring food security and complaints made. This time, the authorities
improving nutritional levels in rural areas will be compelled to listen to the grievances
by way of providing additional wage of the complaint(s) and may offer to
employment to the people who are compensate all the damages done to the
unskilled, are in operation. They are SGRY victims and persuade for the withdrawal of
(Sampoorn Gramin Rojgar Yojna) and the application filed under RTI. In the
NFFW (National Food For Work) ultimate analysis, the courts are there to be
Programme. Crores of rupees and lakhs of approached in the authorities still continue
tones of food grains are supplied to villagers to be stubborn. It is appropriate to cite the
to achieve the said objectives, but with little example of the achievement of MKSS in
gain. The Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) this area.
in case of SGRY and the Dist .Collectors in “In a small village of Rajasthan in
case of NFFW are the implementation 1990, the workers demanded the minimum
authorities. It is an open fact that wages (under the Minimum Wages Act) for
widespread embezzlement and irregularities the work they were doing. They were told
take place during the implementation of that they had not done the work, as proved
such programmes. In order to check these, in the records. When the Mazdoor Kisan
information about the list of beneficiaries of Shakti Sanghathan (MKSS) made a demand
these programmes, the muster rolls, etc., to see the records, they were told that these
may be sought by any individual or a group records are government accounts and
of people or any civil society organization therefore secret. Struggle followed and
under RTI Act. Having got the list, the ultimately people were given the records.
mentioned beneficiaries may be touched Cross examination revealed that in records
upon and enquired for cross verification if all the workers were given the minimum
(a) They have really been given the work, wages, which was denied to them in reality.
and It is from here the group came to know the
(b) If given, whether they were paid importance of access to government
according to the figures shown in the records. It became evident that it was
records. necessary to access records in order to
After the cross verification, if any prevent corruption and to obtain the
discrepancy is found between the records minimum wage.” It may be noted here that
and what the beneficiaries said, the facts it is through this struggle of MKSS in
may be put before the appropriate authority 1990s that the seeds of RTI movement
for action against those who are parties to were implanted in India leading to the
maturing of fruit in terms of passage of RTI The central government schemes like
Acts as both State and Central levels. PMGY, IAS, and PMGSY etc. are in
The National Employment Guarantee operation for catering to the rural
Bill that promises to provide at least 100 infrastructure like roads, drinking water,
days of guaranteed wage employment to electrification, housing etc. In order to
every household, proposes to converge all make the system work effectively, the
wage employment schemes into one. The records of the public works done in a
success of this scheme, once the bill is village or an area for one or more financial
passed, would require wide use RTI acts as year may be sought under the RTI for
Mr. Jean Dreze, the NAC member named conducting social audit. Inspection may be
the architect of Bill, himself agrees. done by physically going to the work sites
Another similar issue of concern is the in order to see if
flawful implementation and prevalence of (a) The works exist or not,
widespread nepotism, favoritism and and
slippage in the self employment (b) It exist, then whether
programmes like SGSY (Swarna jayanti the work done were of
Gramin Swarojgar Yojna), PMGY ( Prime satisfactory quality or
Minister Gramodaya Yojna) etc. Some case not.
studies suggest that full GramSabha This kind of activity is presently going
meeting are not summoned while choosing on with ‘Parivartan’ in Delhi. The
the beneficiaries of poverty alleviation and volunteers and the people of various areas
employment generation programmes; in of Delhi are asking for the records of public
many cases the Self Help Groups (SHGs) works done in their areas. Verification done
simply do not exist. In the name of SHGs, in some areas reveals that in many
some influential persons in the village, who instances, works exist only on paper, not in
are close to the Pradhan or the Panchayat reality. In some other cases, the work done
members, enjoy the fruits of all the is of poor quality. Apprehending the fact
schemes. The people either do not know that corruption would come to limelight (as
about the schemes, or if they know, are it has come on some cases) once the people
getting the subsidized loans under these start verifying the records, the authorities
schemes only after paying bribes. In are approaching the applicants for
Rajasthan, there is a popular saying: “Ya compromise. The people however feel that
tho jack ho, ya cheque ho” (You must have they would have control over the
contacts to use, or money for bribes).” Fits government expenditure and want the
very much here. The use of RTI, if done following demands to be accepted.
appropriately, would prove to be very 1. Before spending any money in any
effective in eliminating nepotism and area, the local people should be
favoritism and bring about transparency in consulted. Not a single penny
the process of selection of beneficiaries and should be spent in any area without
delivering the desired results. the approval from the local people.
2. when the work is in progress, the
(c) RTI and Rural Infrastructure. people should have the right to
inspect the same, and after the work
The next major issue of concern is the is done, the recor5ds of such works
development of infrastructure in rural areas. should be thrown open for scrutiny.
work, satisfaction of the people should be 3. Before making any payment for any
ascertained. No payment should be made (e) RTI and the Panchayati Raj
without the approval of the people. Institutions

Once these demands are accepted by the Similarly, continuous RTI movement
government, the people can supervise the in the rural areas of different states may
developmental process in their areas. And if enable the people to be in a position to
similar exercised can be carried out in all pressurize the governments of various
the rural areas, proper execution of the states to incorporate some of the following
infrastructure projects can be ensured. suggestions for the effective functioning of
the PRIs that hold the key to the
Similarly, imaginative and innovative development of rural areas.
use of RTI can address problems of
illiteracy, poor health and sanitary 1. It should be mandatory for the
conditions under-performance of Pradhanas to properly inform the
Anganwadis and underdevelopment of members of Grama Sabha about the
agriculture and irrigation in rural areas by timing and the purpose of the
ensure meaningful expenditure of public meeting.
money allocated for the purpose. 2. The provision of quorum of the
meeting is made mandatory before
(d) RTI Facilitates the Involvement finalizing the names of
and participation of people in the beneficiaries of the Poverty
development process. alleviation and Employment
Generation programmes. The
During the process of ascertaining the minimum presence of the women
information on various fields discussed and SC/ST members should also
above, the members of public are likely to constitute part of the quorum.
suggest remedial measures and alternative 3. The plans of the development of
policy proposals on those issues. Apart from rural infrastructure should be
this, under the RTI laws, the authorities are compulsorily approved, by way of
supposed to make some suo moto publicity signatures, by the Gramsabha
of information about various issues of before the funds are released for
public concern. Once this is properly done, their implementation.
it would provide ample opportunities to the 4. All the necessary information
intellectuals, civil societies and common should be suo moto displayed on
people to contribute rich inputs to the the Panchayat office notice board,
process of policy formulation, decision and all the records of expenditure
making and their execution. For instance, in like bills, vouchers and muster rolls
Rajasthan the suggestions of MKKS etc. should be thrown open for
removed serious anomalies existing in public audit.
policies of rural development and the
Panchayati Raj Act was amended giving the Some Prerequisites
Ward Sabha (a group of 50 to 80 homes)
legal status and the right to conduct social However, there are some pre-requisites
audits of works carried out in its area. for the above discussed exercise to succeed.
The first necessity is to have an effective
RTI Act both at the central and the state
level, (which we will fortunately have once message to every rural household. Last, but
the RTI Bill passed by Parliament, gets the not the least, a good number of Fast Track
Presidential assent). In such acts, at least Courts should be constituted for the speedy
four essential provisions should be present. disposal of corruption cases caught as a
They are : result of use of RTI.

(a) Access to information should be Conclusion
the rule, denial to it be the
exception. The grounds of denial to The success of the RTI movement
information be clearly and depends on the will of the politicians
specifically mentioned. bureaucrats will to change their mindset
(b) There should be a fixed time limit and adapt it to the concepts of good
within which the sought governance, on civil society to maintain
information is to be provided, constant pressure on the Government apart
failing which the Information from popularizing the concept and giving
Officer would be penalized. direction to the populace. Then only it will
(c) Penalty provision for non- be possible to empower the poorest
compliance to the demand of individual of the remotest rural area of the
information or for furnishing false country and usher in the era of democracy
information by the officials. at work at the grass root level.
(d) Provision for an independent
mechanism to address to the
complaints of public denied
information or provided with false
information.

The second one is popularizing the use
of RTI Acts. For this, the Government
should be made responsible to publicize the
various provisions of the act. However, for
effective publicity, the civil society
organizations, intellectuals, experts have to
give leadership to masses as Ms Aruna Roy
and MKSS in Rajasthan. Mr. Anna Hazare Developed by – Mousham
in Maharastra, Mr. Arvind Kejerwal and Email – yuvabpl1@yahoo.com
Parivartan in Delhi are giving. The masses
should be made to realize the potential of
such concept in redressing individual and
public grievances and be encouraged to
practice the same. The role of mass media is
very important in high lightening the
achievements of the use of RTI. Apart from
the mainstream media, the help of
traditional medias like nukkad nataks,
puppet dances, community radios, local
newspapers etc. may be taken to spread the